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Cranberry Farmer: A Working Mom in Massachusetts

Pooling resources is key for this family.

cranberry harvest

Fall harvest is a beautiful combination crimson color and colorful foliage, bringing joy to long days.

Three generations working side-by-side to bring in harvest. Identical twin 16 year-old daughters. Long days of staring at little red berries, followed by short nights. Energy, patience, stamina and passion are needed to bring in this tangy holiday tradition.

And it’s a life that Dawn Gate-Allen wouldn’t trade for anything. She’s a working mom, but her office involves tall boots and a lot of water. And solar-powered sensors talk to her laptop – wherever it might be. Those sensors make sure the cranberries don’t get beyond 105 degrees in their bogs and have enough moisture. Wouldn’t that be handy for your plants?

Dawn, her husband and the twin daughters are the only labor you’ll find on their 27 acres of cranberry bogs most of the year. Dawn’s parents, two brothers pool their labor during harvest of their mutual bogs. The girls are the fifth generation to love the science of growing cranberries.

cranberry kids farm bog harvest

Identical twins & 5th generation on the farm - Mariah on left, Nicole on right, during harvest 2008, with family friends.

You may not be able to tell them apart, except for their interests. Nicole is focused on floriculture, fascinated by the science behind genetics and DNA. Mariah is more into natural resources, with a bend toward protecting the environment and their bog’s precious water supply.  Their mom worries about how the girls will make a living from cranberries on the current set-up – she knows they’ll need to diversify to be sustainable.

“It’s a privilege to be a farmer and take care of our 90 acres of land.” That care is such a concern that they use food grade oils in the harvesting equipment. If something does happen, they have equipment to contain and clean-up the spill.  Maybe BP could learn something from this cranberry-growing family?

Did you know?

Protecting the environment is top priority for cranberry farmers. Dawn and her husband have invested $100,000 in conservation upgrades including pop-up sprinklers, automated irrigation and new waster control flumes in the last 2 years. Water is is literally the lifeblood and recycled throughout the bog system. Water provides frost protection in spring fall, protects root zones during the harshest winter months and is essential to harvest.

solar power pump house cranberries

Solar power gives constant battery power to the automated irrigation receivers, saving 15% in fuel this year.

Consider this…

Native Americans and early settlers understood the value of these bright fruits. They ground cranberries into “Pemmican” – and used it to preserve meats throughout the winter. Cranberries were also used for wound care. Fast forward to university research of today – Proanthocyanidins, which prevent certain E. coli from sticking or adhering to bladders walls, has been discovered in cranberries. Tomorrow’s research is underway for this little berry’s power related to cancer, dental, ulcer and heart issues.

And Dawn thinks that’s pretty cool. After all, she’s a mother who knows what a bright future those berries have – for others and her daughters.

You are welcome to use any of our farm stories with full attribution to Michele Payn-Knoper, using the following description (byline): “Michele Payn-Knoper is one of the nation’s leading farm and food advocates. She is a passionate keynote speaker, a trainer known for her energy and a connector for those interested in translating farm to food. Find out more, including the full story of the hands working to bring food to your plate, at http://causematters.com – P.O. Box 92, Lebanon, IN 46052 – 765.427.4426″

Hungry for more farmer stories?
Dairy Farmer: A Californian Goddess
Potato Farmer: Techno Toys in North Dakota
Wheat Farmer: The Data Guy in Kansas
Pumpkin Farmer: All Hands on Deck in Illinois
Turkey Farmer: A Sustainable Entrepreneur in Michigan

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